TRUCKEE, Calif. — Vietnam veteran and Truckee resident Ernie Barton considers himself a lucky man.
While on a low-level bombing mission on Nov. 24, 1964, his plane was shot down, crashing into Thailand, an American ally in the Vietnam War. Two other servicemen flying behind him — who were also shot down — were killed, however.
“We can’t bring those kids back,” Barton said. “We can’t make them alive again, but we can keep their memory alive. That’s very important.”
Barton was among more than 100 individuals who gathered at 11 a.m. Monday at the Truckee Train Deport for a Veterans Day ceremony. Residents and officials paid tribute to all those who have served to protect America and its freedoms.
“I would like to say from the bottom of my heart, how very grateful I am to all who are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedoms of our great country,” said Teri Smith, president of Truckee Tahoe Republican Women Federated, during the ceremony.
Originally known as Armistice Day, Nov. 11 was primarily meant to honor veterans of World War I, but expanded to American veterans of all wars in 1954 following World War II, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Among those present at Truckee’s ceremony Monday was 92-year-old World War II veteran George Grupe.
“I gave up four years of my life,” he said, when asked of sacrifices he made for this country. “All of ‘42, ‘43, ‘44, ‘45 and three months of ‘46. You gave up a lot of your life when you were maturing.”
Truckee resident Sue Hartker acknowledged the sacrifices servicemen and women have made over the years.
“We wouldn’t have this country without them,” she said. “It’s hard to verbalize their sacrifice. I just feel it in my heart.”
To honor veterans, the Mountain Belles sang patriotic songs, and the Tahoe Truckee Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol conducted a ceremony with the American and California state flags at the depot.
In addition, the Wagon Train provided coffee and doughnuts for the ceremony, while Squeeze In offered a $15 meal discount for veterans. They also enjoyed a free lunch after the ceremony in the Community Room of the Truckee Donner Senior Apartments.
Veterans aren’t the only ones who should be honored on Nov. 11 and beyond, Barton said, but their families, too.
“Often times they get overlooked,” he said. “Their war is going on and will continue to go on because (while) a bunch of us that come home relatively in one piece, there are those who didn’t come home at all and those who come home seriously injured, hurt and wounded.
“That’s not just physically, but that’s mentally, as well.”
During this year’s Veterans Day, America continues battling on many fronts.
“Today, we honor the unwavering courage of the men and women who have served in our armed forces, including those in the ongoing efforts of securing our nation in the continuing fight against terrorists,” said Truckee’s Tim LoDolce, a Vietnam veteran and ceremony emcee. “Our men and women in uniform — both past and present — have been and are the most powerful line of defense in all conflicts against enemies who set out to harm our way of life.”
A new member of that defense line is Truckee resident Jon Friesen, 19, son of Peg Friesen.
“He’s going to be a new veteran,” said Peg, while proudly sporting a Navy mom cap. “It’s amazing. I’m so proud of him.”
“At Sierra Bible Church, we have a list of young men and women that are serving now and have served,” added Mavis Bowes, a Truckee resident. “We’ve had well over 100 of them, and we pray for those kids every day. Every one of them has come back safe.”